Mzwandile Makwayiba, president of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), on Thursday called on Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize to pay back the R150 million awarded to Digital Vibes by his department.
Speaking during the virtual memorial service for Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba, Makwayiba said the money could be used to advance the rights of workers.
“We want to tell government that the money must come back and be utilised in the lives of the health workers. That money must come back and be used to look after workers and improve their working conditions. That money must come back to incentivise workers who are facing the Covid-19 pandemic almost every day,” he said.
According to media reports, Mkhize’s associates, his former persona assistant Tahera Mather and former spokesperson Naadhira Mitha, were involved in the company when it was awarded the contract for communications work in the department.
Mkhize, who denies benefiting from the contract, was placed on special leave by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week.
Makwayiba expressed Nehawu’s frustrations with the slow vaccine roll-out, in particular the fact that healthcare workers were still at risk of contracting the deadly virus.
“We are now in the third wave and who knows, we might get into the fourth wave. We said to the leaders of government we are not happy with your [vaccination] strategy, it has proven it is not going well because many workers have been left unattended, without the vaccine.”
Makwayiba said Xaba had died at a time when workers are under “immense attack” as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni holds firm on his decision not to increase the public service workers’ salaries.
According to media reports, at a conference organised by JSE and sponsored by Citibank and Absa Group on Thursday, Mboweni said the National Treasury would not back down on its stance on public service salaries.
“We know many of the workers, they were not being paid. Today as we were preparing to get into this memorial service, we read about the speech of Mboweni, who says he is not going to budget for the wages of the public [servants].
He said it was “interesting” that a Cabinet minister would assure investors that workers would not get salary increases despite their risky working conditions.
“What kind of world are we living in? What kind of government is leading us? Where is this country going?”
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali praised Xaba for his dedication to the alliance and trade union movement.
He said Xaba would be reunited with comrades who passed on. He would tell them about the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the slow pace of vaccinations, the emerging agenda of privatisation as well as the problem of unemployment and poverty, he added.
Ntshalintshali said Xaba would also tell the comrades about the attack on the collective bargaining and the reduced budget of the CCMA.
“Xaba’s message to the youth would be the following, that our movement should be vigilant at all times and see that no comrade is divorced from the masses, but it should teach comrades to love the people and listen attentively to the voices of the masses,” he said.
Many speakers spoke fondly about Xaba, describing him as someone who was bubbly with a great sense of humour.
His love for Che Guevara showed in his tattoo of the Marxist leader, and Argentine Marxist revolutionary’s pictures at both in his office and at home. Xaba joined Nehawu from the Young Communist League of SA in 2016 as a media liaison officer. He died on Sunday in Cape Town.